An Incredibly Bad Day

Many factors led to the death of Rich Herzog.

"This stuff has got to stop!" was Sheriff Dave Reichert's frustrated reaction after the shooting death of King County deputy sheriff Rich Herzog. It sounded inelegant, yet "stuff" seems the right word to describe the elements that collided to cause Herzog's extraordinary slaying in the usually quiet, woodsy little Eastside city of Newcastle on June 22.

All that could go wrong did for Herzog, 46, married, and the father of two. He ended up gunless, facing an irrational crack-smoking suspect, resulting from a failure to communicate. The suspect now facing aggravated murder charges, Ronald Keith Matthews, 44, also married with two children, was released from prison just 11 days earlier, after serving time for assaulting police officers in nearby Bellevue. It had been more than eight months since the Bellevue incident, also fueled by crack, when, half-naked, he exploded and fought with six Bellevue cops, telling officers, "I will fucking kill you!" The group managed to subdue and arrest him.

Bellevue police have complained that if a judge had given Matthews more time in jail, Herzog would be alive. But the case followed a typical script. King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng's office bargained a guilty plea by prosecuting Matthews only for assault and dropping the cocaine use. That left Superior Court Judge Ron Kessler little choice but to sentence Matthews to one year for assault 3. The prosecutor also discounted some of Matthews' past crimes—three felonies in California, for example—to lower Matthews' offender "score," which is used by the courts to establish a mandated sentence.

Matthews' public defender told the judge that Matthews "has accepted responsibility for his assault on the Bellevue officers," though actually Matthews made an Alford plea, not admitting guilt but allowing that he'd likely be found guilty (he wrote in a court statement: "I believe that I am not guilty of the crime as charged . . . "). With time off for good behavior, Matthews served 81/2 months.

Said his attorney: "Mr. Matthews is intelligent, hardworking, and insightful. These are qualities that will likely enable him to succeed. . . . " Unfortunately, he was wrong. June 22, Matthews relapsed, buying and using cocaine that morning.

Though much information about Matthews was available from both police and public records, Deputy Herzog had no inkling of the danger he would face when, at 5 p.m. that day, he was dispatched to handle an unidentified naked man running through traffic, pounding on cars and buses, and shouting obscenities. The state Department of Corrections insists it sent an alert to the sheriff's office regarding Matthews' prison release. Matthews had days earlier signed in with his parole officer and had a month to take a drug evaluation (the state was allowing the addict to supervise his own treatment). But the department says it never received the alert.

The county's dispatch and records center was apparently unable to warn Herzog that his suspect was a police-bashing addict who had recently moved into the neighborhood. Had Herzog known that he was confronting a violent offender, he might not have moved in on Matthews without backup—other officers were minutes away—nor casually walked up to the suspect, touching him. As Maleng now says, the explosive, delusional Matthews—as in Bellevue, he loudly proclaimed he was God—suddenly grabbed Herzog and, unfazed by a dose of pepper spray, knocked loose the deputy's gun. The enraged but calculating Matthews, a muscular 5 foot 11 and 190 pounds, reloaded the Glock 40 with the clip that had fallen loose and began firing off all 16 shots. Most went astray, but one wounded Herzog in the hip as he ran for cover, according to investigators. After chasing Herzog down, Matthews allegedly shot him four times in the head as he lay wounded.

Matthews surrendered 45 minutes later, dressed, seemingly coherent, his apparent psychotic break ending as suddenly as it began. He allegedly told officers he "should get the death penalty" for what he'd done.

Between drug relapses, he lived a normal, productive life and could help in his own recovery. In court records, a drug counselor says that Matthews, though severely addicted, even homeless, nonetheless eventually "became involved in church, was baptized, co-chaired a men's group, got married, took parenting classes, and was reunited with his two children."

But Matthews continued to make what some call "bad choices," which over the years included stealing, writing bad checks, carrying a gun, and selling drugs—coke and heroin. Matthews has a record of at least 25 felonies and misdemeanors in two states spanning 20 years. Despite his dry outs, he was getting progressively more unstable and violence prone when using cocaine. On June 22, at his wife's apartment in Newcastle, he became violently aggressive while engaging in a sex act, slugged his wife in the face, and ran naked into the street, police and prosecutors say. It was a near repeat of the Bellevue incident that no one warned Herzog about.

Stuff. As Reichert said, it has to stop. But does anyone think it will?

randerson@seattleweekly.com

 
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